Thanks for the special feeling

THE first sets of Standard grade results I looked for this August were for two pupils I'll call Frank and Susan. They were our first "inclusion" pupils.

We were keen to welcome Frank and Susan two years ago, but at the initial meetings, the task of integrating these two students into our 1,000-pupil secondary from their small, protective special school seemed quite daunting.

For their parents, this was the culmination of a long, determined fight. They were convinced mainstream was the right setting for their children, but it must have felt to them at times like a calculated risk.

We spent time with pupils and parents; tried to identify every hazard, and set up every conceivable support - but always with the proviso that we were a mainstream school, and they would receive mainstream provision.

We held our breath for the first week or two; there were misunderstandings and miscommunications. It took time before we stopped seeking out Frank and Susan at break times, to check they were OK. Then one day we couldn't spot them - they had become "just another two pupils".

This, of course, is an oversimplification, because many staff, teaching and non-teaching, worked hard to support Frank and Susan; their parents became brilliant supporters of the school.

We developed a creative arts-based suite of subjects, that was open to any pupil. Through that involvement in music and drama performance, life skills, photography, art and outdoor education, a cohort of young people developed skills, confidence and self-awareness, and this will continue to be available long after Frank and Susan have left.

Their Standard grade results? Credits and Generals mostly - good for any mainstream pupil, but for these two the tangible evidence of an incredible journey, of determination, hard work and a depth of support, from parents and staff, and in particular from other pupils, that was inspiring.

And don't dare use the words patronising or sentimental here; we're talking about hard-edged graft and commitment, particularly from Frank and Susan themselves, who would soon let you know if they felt they were being treated as different.

There are times when it is clear, even to the most cynical observer of education, that teachers can, and do, make a difference. When Frank and Susan joined mainstream, they left a special school behind them, but what they brought to our community, was, beyond any doubt, in itself, special.

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